BUDGET 2020: United In Action
I am sure many of you have been closely following the recent budget speech by our Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Mr HengSweeKeat where he had outlined many measures to help Singaporeans both individuals and companies tackle the sudden turn of events in the economy as a result of Covid-19. Before sharing with you my thoughts of how we as a community can respond and rise to these challenges, let us take a quick look at some of the key announcements made in Budget 2020, delivered in Parliament on 18 February 2020.
Budget 2020 is presented against a backdrop of the on-going COVID-19 outbreak, as well as broader uncertainties in the landscape. There are also long-term shifts taking place around the world. Among them a decline in support for globalisation, a shift in economic weight towards Asia, technological disruption, and an ageing population in many countries.
The Government’s immediate concern is to protect Singaporeans from the risk of a further spread of the COVID-19 virus. $800 million will be set aside for the Ministry of Health and other ministries to respond to this outbreak.
Equally important, there are concerns on the economy and jobs. A $4 billion Stabilisation and Support Package will help workers and enterprises weather near-term economic uncertainties. The Government will introduce a Jobs Support Scheme to provide wage support to enterprises that retain local workers, and enhance the Wage Credit Scheme to help enterprises with the cost of wage increases. For companies and businesses, there is the corporate income tax rebate for YA 2020, and introduce other measures to help enterprises with their cash flow.
One big question in everybody’s mind was the recent plans to increase the goods and services tax or GST from the current 7 percent to nine percent sometime between 2021 to 2025. Well, the Finance Minster brought some good news for all of us.
Considering the current state of the economy, Finance Minister Heng told the nation that the planned GST rate increase will not take effect in 2021.
Even then, when the GST rate is raised, the Government will provide a $6 billion Assurance Package to cushion the increase for all Singaporeans.
These are just some of the slew of announcements made in Budget 2020. Of course there are many more about helping households and families with utility rebates, more support for growing families and boosting education. But all these goodies and announcements in Budget 2020 will come to zero if we as a community do not put our heads and hands together to rise up to the challenge and make our community and society a better one. Let’s look at this issue a bit deeper now.
Our Response as a community
Our first and most important response as a community will be to give the measures announced by the government our fullest support. Be it as an individual or as an enterprise or business. There will always be the argument and concern that more could have been done in a particular area. But let us remember that the government has also given the assurance that if the situation worsens, the government is ready to do even more as emphasised by DPM Heng when he spoke in Parliament to wrap up the debate on the Budget 2020.
Next take fullest advantage of the various schemes which the government has announced to help workers and companies upskill and remain profitable and viable even in these difficult times. There is a top up to your SkillsFuture account. If you have not utilised your skills future funds for training purpose, now is the time to do so to make full use of the opportunities to equip yourself with skills you had most wanted to learn. If you are a union member, you can also make additional use of UTAP- the fund provided for training and assistance by the labour movement.
Companies facing a downtime in their business need not fear too. The government has made several important announcements to help them defray their business costs and at the same time send their workers for upskilling and training. Now is the time for our Indian businesses to harness these schemes and improve their business acumen and profitability efforts. Do try your best to avoid retrenching workers but make use of steps to cut down your business costs by perhaps asking them to work shorter weeks or take no pay leave for a period of time and then allow them to come back to work. Let us avoid leaving a family in distress by laying off their breadwinner. I am sure we as a community can rise to the occasion.
Thirdly and most importantly, let us help one another in the community to identify people and families who ned help and then refer them to the appropriate agencies, community development councils, social service agencies etc to get them the targeted help they need. We must look out for one another in our community so that we quickly stop anyone from falling through the cracks. If you know someone in the grassroots organisation or your constituency advisor himself, I am sure they would only be too happy to help the concerned individual and family lift up from difficulties through the many schemes the government has to help needy Singaporeans.
Our Singapore, Our Tomorrow
Here is what DPM Heng said when he concluded his Budget speech in Parliament 28 February 2020. e Singapore.
“Let us never stop thinking for tomorrow. In the long and never-ending journey of nation-building, each generation of Singaporeans are relay runners. May we always take good care of what we have inherited, run our best race, and pass on a better future to those who come after us.”
And that is precisely what our community has to do too- run the race together, lookout for one another and build a better Singapore with our brothers and sisters of all races, religions and communities.
By S Ramesh